Long-range success: Rickie Fowler finds putting groove from downtown

Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

Long-range success: Rickie Fowler finds putting groove from downtown

PGA Tour

Long-range success: Rickie Fowler finds putting groove from downtown

Some golf fans (and pundits) used to wonder if Rickie Fowler was more sizzle than substance. While they saw the bright clothes, the flat-top hats and the media buzz surrounding the Californian, they did not see a lot of wins.

Fowler has squashed that narrative by winning four PGA Tour events, including the 2015 Players Championship and the 2017 Honda Classic. He nearly won again two weeks ago at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, finishing one shot behind Patton Kizzire.

A solid all-around player, Fowler finished 2016 ranked No. 12 in the Official World Golf Ranking and has moved up to No. 7 since then thanks to 10 top-10 finishes to go along with the Honda victory in February at PGA National.

A key to Fowler’s success has been improved putting. He finished second on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting last season with an average of 0.761, up from 0.153 (ranked 64th).

“I would say that last year (2015-16) was more of an off year,” Fowler recently said when asked how he improved so much from one year to the next. “I definitely feel like putting has always been a strong point for me in terms of understanding all the aspects of it, from a technical and a feel standpoint. Sometimes it can just get off a little bit. …

“I feel like I’m making a lot more inside 10 feet. I know I’ve made a bunch there, and statistically I’m doing well there. I’ve always been good in the 10- to 20-foot range, and that’s great, but if you don’t make the 5- and 7-foot putts … those are the momentum killers or builders.”

Fowler is right, he did putt well from inside 10 feet last season, but the numbers reveal his perception and reality are not the same. In fact, Fowler made 1 percent fewer putts from inside 10 feet last season than the year before. Over the past five years, Fowler has been remarkably consistent in his putting from inside 10 feet, with his worst season being 2013, when he made 87.18 percent, and his best season being 2015, when he converted 89.76 percent.

As the chart on these pages shows, Fowler made significantly more long-range putts last season than he did during the 2015-16 season, and that is why his strokes gained: putting average increased dramatically. His percentage of makes from 10 to 15 feet increased from 29.52 percent to 41.36 percent. He made 21.37 percent from 15 to 20 feet, up from 15.57 percent, and he made 22.58 percent of his putts from 20 to 25 feet, ranked third on the PGA Tour and up from 11.34 percent in 2015-16.

The thing that separates the best putters from the good putters on the PGA Tour is the ability to make more long putts. When Jason Day finished the 2015-16 season with a strokes gained: putting average of 1.13, he ranked second in putting from more than 25 feet (9.39 percent), fourth from 20 to 25 feet (20.27 percent) and 14th from 15 to 20 feet (23.81 percent). Last season, Day’s strokes gained: putting average slipped to 0.324 and he made
1.32 percent fewer putts from more than 25 feet, 5.6 percent fewer from 20 to 25 feet and 6.03 percent fewer from 15 to 20 feet.

If Fowler continues to make long putts as he did last season and boosts his strokes gained: approach-the-green average from last season’s 0.081 (97th) to around 0.4, where it had been the previous few seasons, 2018 could be the year that Rickie’s sizzle leads him to his first major title.

(Note: This story appears in the Nov. 20, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

Latest

More Golfweek
Home